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One of the biggest challenges in digital painting is choosing the right colors. Each type of traditional media has limitations based on the pigments available. Watercolors, for example, have a limited color range even when mixing various paints. Paint software, however, offers an unlimited number of colors, regardless of the medium you are trying to emulate. Using watercolor brushes, but unrealistic colors, will not create a traditional looking painting.

An interesting feature in Corel Painter exists in the color swatch dialog. It can really help you build an appropriate color palette. The first step is to open an image, a scan of an actual watercolor or oil painting for example, that contains the type of color palette you wish to use. Then select the triangle at the upper right of the color swatch dialog. A menu appears with several options available.

Paint Swatch Dialog

Select "New Color Set from Image". Painter will sample and create a color set of the swatches available in the image. Providing you use an appropriate source, you should now have a proper color range that will allow you to create a more true to life traditional painting.

If you are scanning in linework and want to create a color illustration from it, it is easy to do in Photoshop, here's how. Make sure the linework is on it's own layer. Set that layer's blending mode to multiply. Create layers underneath that layer and begin adding color. The lines will still show, but you will see the color underneath. If you want the lines to disappear, move your color layers above the line layer. Here is an example of an illustration created using this technique.

If you want to fill areas with color you can do that too. Choose the Paint Bucket Tool, and make sure the "All Layers" option is checked. Go to your color layer and fill. This method will keep the color separate from the line layer. If too much area fills, go to the line layer and close any "leaks" in the linework. Use as many color layers as you need, but it best to never add color to the linework layer. The reason is that each layer has it's own mask. By using color layers with a strategy, you automatically create selections that can be used for fine tuning your illustration later on.

An inspiring book - "Watercolors by Winslow Homer: The Color of Light" - written by Martha Tedeschi with Kristi Dahm, features many works by the great watercolorist, but more importantly, Homer's techniques and materials are discussed as they related to each piece.

If you have never seen the works of Winslow Homer, the online National Gallery of Art Exhibition is very well done. The Art Institute of Chicago Exhibition also has very informative resources. You may want to check them out as well as this book.

One of the best features of Photoshop is the use of layers, lots of layers. It is not unusual to place anything that might need to be edited on it's own layer. Thus the file size can get to be quite large, sometimes ranging from 600mb to over 1gb. These large files can take quite a while to open, and if the only reason for opening the file is something simple like running a print, opening the layered file is not necessary.

Here is a short but very handy tip. Click FILE then click OPEN as usual. Find the file in the dialog box and highlight it with the cursor. Then holding down the Alt and Shift keys simultaneously, click on the OPEN button. A dialog box will pop up asking "Read the composite data instead?" Click YES and the file will open with all layers flattened. The time required to open the file is shortened dramatically. The layering is still intact on the original file, you are not altering it in any way. But a word of caution, do not save this version over the original or you will lose all your layering.

The Vogel 50x50 web site, created by Second Story, brings together 2,500 contemporary artworks that were distributed throughout the nation as part of The Dorthy and Herbert Vogel Collection. It is called Fifty Works for Fifty States. At present, 583 of 2,500 artworks have been published, with many more to come. Visit Vogel 50x50...

Digital Art has shown incredible growth over the last several years, and emerging artwork is absolutely fantastic. Even though production techniques are new, old theories still apply. Study of traditional art masters and their techniques can bring exciting options to digital artists.

A great study resource is no farther than the corner bookstore. One suggestion might be "Memory and Magic" Andrew Wyeth. Even though Andrew Wyeth's work has a very "real" quality, the composition, texture and color, not to mention the striking light and shadow reveal the genius of his work. Another artist to look into is Georgia O'Keefe. Even though she was an abstract painter, the realism in her paintings of flowers and landscape came through in her use of color and contrast. Again with O'Keefe's work, the composition is amazing. Other artists to research include John Singer Sargent, Claude Monet, Norman Rockwell, Thomas Kinkade, Edward Hopper and Winslow Homer. Each artist features a totally different style, but the beauty of their work is inspirational.

Even though these artists all worked with traditional media, their techniques can be translated to digital media. The use of brushstroke, color, and composition never go out of style.

Adobe Photoshop CS3 has many capabilities for working with HDR images. For those not familiar with the concept, normal images are either 8 or 16 bit, with luminance storage from black to white. HDR images store much higher luminance values using 32 bit floating point values. Photoshop has the ability to create 32 bit images. The command is found under the Automate menu, and is listed as Merge to HDR...

The process begins by taking a series of photographs using different exposures, from dark to light. It is best to use a tripod and take the exposures a couple f-stops apart. The minimum number of shots is three, five to seven shots are better. The Merge to HDR command will automatically align the images and create the 32 bit file. The last stage of the process allows setting the preview balance. This setting is for previews only and does not affect the actual luminance range. The file should be saved as a 32 bit file to preserve the entire range of luminance values.

The newest release of Corel Painter has an exciting feature called the RealBristleā„¢ Painting System. The technique enhances the interaction between the paint, the canvas, and the brush, creating a very traditional feel. The bristles in the brush behave in a very similar manner to that of a traditional paintbrush. Because the brush system is also customizable, many variations are possible. There is an animated demonstration on the Painter Studio website.

Another feature is the Artists' Oils painting system. Using the Mixer palette, you can mix different colors together just as you would traditional paints, and then load the brush with a finite amount of paint from the blended colors. As the paint is used up, the brush stroke becomes fainter, just as it would in traditional media.