Getting arty with graphics: Part II

In the previous column, we covered the use of filters and basic layer procedures to generate digital art quickly. These techniques can be rewarding, but a little more effort and skill is needed to create interesting and diverse works. There are two main sources of material for digital art - drawings and photographs. For more traditional looking pieces, it is best to strip down the images to a basic outline and then use your computer to add colour and effects.

Drawings and paintings

If you have some drawing skills, you may find that they are difficult to directly translate from a pencil or brush to your mouse. An easy solution is to draw a basic version of the image on flat white paper and scan it into your computer. The key is to stick to important features such as outlines and shape. Use a single coloured pen or ink - a dark grey or black ink will make it easy to scan the drawing, and in most cases you can use a graphics program to adjust the intensity of the lines. One word of caution: make sure the ink or paint is completely dry before putting it on the scanner (and brush off any pencil shavings or lead dust).

Avoid using paper with too much texture or tint. These can introduce artefacts that are captured by the scanner - what looks like subtle ridges on the paper may turn out to be ugly splotches once scanned. When you are satisfied with the image you have drawn, scan it into your computer using full colour mode. Avoid the scanner's line art options, as they tend to drop light shading while exaggerating soft lines or textures. Likewise, grey scale settings may lose detail.

You can always use a graphics program to change an image from colour to black and white or line art, but you can't go do the reverse (an image scanned as line art can not be converted to its full colour equivalent - a new scan is required). To convert colour images to black and white, simply open the file and select Colours-Grey Scale (Paint Shop Pro); in Photoshop, select Image-Mode-Gray Scale. If you want to take one step farther and go to line art, see the next section for details.

Important: after converting your image to grey scale or line art, make sure that you change the mode back to 16 million colours or RGB mode (some people may prefer CMYK). The image will still appear black and white, but it will allow you to introduce new colours. If you don't change the setting, you will only be permitted to select grey scale tones.

Converting your colour photographs

Using an existing photograph opens up a huge range of possibilities and which techniques you choose will depend on your desired finished look.

For example, to create the Andy Warhol/Pop Art look, you will need to discard most of the colour information - this will leave you with the basic black and white image. Start by picking a photograph that has interesting contrast and shapes. You may want to adjust the contrast and brightness by selecting Colours-Adjust-Brightness/Contrast (Paint Shop Pro 7) or Image-Adjustments-Brightness/Contrast (Photoshop 7).

Next, decrease the total number of colours to two. In Paint Shop Pro select Colours-Decrease Colour Depth-2 Colours (1 bit). Photoshop may involve a two-step process: select Image-Mode-Duo tone. If this is not available, then select Image-Mode-Gray Scale and then try the Duo tone option again.

If all is going well, you should have an image that resembles a photocopy of the original. You can now select elements of the picture and alter their colours with tools such as Colour Balance, Levels, Flood Fill or Colour Replacer.

If you decided that this procedure is too harsh and want just the essential outlines, then try the Edge filter. It takes a number of steps and some tidying with the eraser tools, but the results can be worth the effort.

Start by resizing the image so it is about 300x300 pixels - this will produce thicker, more natural-looking lines when the Edge filter is applied. If you want fine lines, use a larger image such as 800x800. Now apply the Find Edge filter: Filter-Stylize-Find Edges (Photoshop 7) or Effects-Edge-Find All (Paint Shop Pro 7 - for some reason, the resulting image in this program will appear black with edges in white. Correct the problem by selecting Colours-Negative image).

To remove the motley collection of colours that will make up your lines, convert the image to grey scale. You can vary the tones of the lines with the Contrast and Brightness commands. Then use the Eraser and Select tools to remove any unwanted elements or splotches. Finally, resize the image to your preferred dimensions and change the image back to 16 million colours or RGB/CMYK mode.

Regardless of whether you used a drawing, painting or photograph, you should now be ready to start painting colours - which is the topic of my next column.

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