Tuesday, July 26, 2011

St. George Process: Digital vs. Watercolor & Ink

By Justin Gerard

Last post I showed the St. George painting executed in watercolor and ink.  Today I am going through the same piece, only this time, working in digital over the original pencil.

My initial digital process (in CS5) is almost exactly the same as my traditional process. I use primarily multiply layers to work up the dark tones slowly until the right values are generally accomplished and the colors and color temperatures are suggested.  Since I am working transparently both ways, the traditional and the digital pieces look very similar at this stage.

Before moving forward, I prepare a lightly toasted waffle with butter and syrup and strawberries and then eat this delicious meal. This is a very important step.

Next (back in Photoshop) I begin to pull up the the lighting on the objects to further define the values.  During this stage I am still working on mostly transparent layers. I am trying to keep as much of the pencil in tact as possible.  My goal for this stage is to really establish the values and colors of the scene and everything in it.  It is much easier for me to start pulling up colors after the values have been worked out. It's not necessarily the best method, but this procedural approach tends to work better for me because my brain was shipped out missing the specific hardware that would have otherwise allowed me to process both value and color at the same time.  (This is why I stare in wonder when I see the other Muddys like Donato or Petar or Greg paint.  They are putting the right color in the right place and it is just amazing to me.)
I am still waiting for the rest of my brain to come in the mail.

Now that the overall values and colors have both been figured out, I can really get into the details without having to worry too much about possibly having to go back and paint over anything. I have more or less idiot-proofed the painting and can now work around it easily and confidently, exploring the nooks and crannies and refining everything. This final work I do in mostly normal layers, leaving some pencil strokes alone and covering others that are grabbing too much attention up.

If you happen to be out the in L.A. area you can check out the pieces at Gallery Nucleus on August 6.


  1. Brilliant piece, Justin! I especially like those hidden touches of green. Thanks for the look into your digital process - plenty to ponder here. I'm another who is fascinated by the idea of getting the drawing, colour and value all into one stroke... it seems a very zen pursuit. That being said, your work here is certainly proof that a more constructive, stepped process can also yield excellent results.

    Thanks again!

  2. Proof that knowledge of your tools and process are what really counts. I am a fan of both versions of this piece for different yet equally valid reasons. I also love the subject matter: CLASSIC!

  3. Even your blogposts have magic to them. Please spoil your audience and do this more often.

  4. Agree with Micah here, love both versions. The 3rd image in this post really seperates it however, placing it in the digital category. Not a bad thing that, just saying.

    The lightly toasted waffle thing was ace! :-)

  5. Just love the "very important step". Easy to under-estimate the importance of distracting oneself with something else at a key point... and toasted waffle with syrup n strawberries was pretty distracting to read, never mind eat... love the way you tell it.

  6. Although I work in opaque oils, I totally get your method of keeping your drawing alive as long as possible. There is a certain security in knowing that its there to guide you when things get crazy. Thanks for sharing Justin

  7. Just so everyone knows...it's Justin's birthday today! Gifts of breakfast foods would be greatly appreciated, I'm sure.

  8. Brilliant as always Justin! The studies both in digital and traditional, is there a method you enjoy more than the other? Perhaps it is the combination?

    I shall be in L.A. for The Society Of Children's Books Writers and Illustrators Conference. It would be great to drop by the opening!

  9. Hey Justin!
    This is lookin' awesome (heck, it has all along).
    Now, when you said "My goal for this stage is to really establish the values and colors of the scene and everything in it"... is this because you just don't want to do that in the watercolor, or is it just less time consuming and complicated to do that in Photoshop? I was under the impression that doing a watercolor painting was mostly to get the values right in the first place. Correct me if I'm wrong, but that just confused me a little.

    And on a side note, if Anonymous' comment is correct, then happy birthday. If not, happy birthday in advance;)

  10. Hey guys!

    Anonymous is correct, I am now one year closer to ancient. I am celebrating the American way by eating far too much and then going out and doing really stupid bike stunts.

    Will and Nicholas,
    I do prefer to work in watercolor, but for this one I wanted to try working digital directly from the pencil. Up until about the half-way point the digital and watercolor look remarkably similar. It's only when I start working in the normal layers in CS5 that it starts to take on the digital look.

    Some people have suggested taking the original piece as far as possible in watercolor and then sealing it in acrylic and then finishing it in oil. In theory that process should be able to simulate a lot of what I did here, and then would leave me with a full traditional piece at the end, but I haven't had very much success with it yet.

  11. Since It seems to be a key element in your painting process, what brand waffles do you use? With my luck of course that same brand won't be available here in Holland and I'll have to settle for some second rate waffles. The syrop and strawberries are easy to get, but them damn waffles....
    Thanks for the insight and a Happy Birthday!

  12. Are you going to be at Gallery Nucleus on opening night Justin?

  13. Do you already know where to go when you start drawing the pencil work and find it out on the way or do you make a lot of thumbnails and color tests first ?

  14. Mario,

    Actually, I think the best waffles in the world can be found in the Netherlands.
    As good as they are here, the waffles I make are still only poor, frozen imitations of the masterfully prepared delicacies that I recall having on my last trip to Amsterdam.

    Unfortunately I won't be able to make it. I had really hoped to get out for it but there is just too much going on to get out. Next year...

    I actually do lots of thumbnails and comps before moving on to this tight drawing. By the time I get to this final drawing I have already worked out almost everything in the image that could pose a problem. The composition, the proportions and the perspective have been nearly worried to death.
    This earlier post goes through a bit of what happens before I get to any tight drawing:

  15. AHH! I am so glad I am not the only one who struggles with this whole value-color-at-the-same-time. Missing hardware - that explains so much!

    Thanks for the process walk through, it's helped me a lot!


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