Readers may remember “More to it than meets the eye” by Don Lambert of Weatherford, Texas, in response to my recent letter “Love those apps.” Taking a look at Don’s work, I was blown away by the remarkable quality.
Don’s art is photographically based. As I understand it, he goes to quite a bit of trouble to set up his models and photograph them in period costumes and true-to-life environments. After photos are taken, he may combine by Photoshop other images that give the work added meaning and nuance. Then he passes the work through the “Painter” app and produces what looks for all the world like a masterful oil painting. From there he goes directly to Giclee-on-canvas in a variety of sizes to order. In this way Don produces excellent work that looks like the oil paintings of E.I. Couse, W.H. Dunton, Dean Cornwell or even Vermeer, Sargent or Norman Rockwell.
To get some advice on this, I spoke to my trusted friend Tatjana Mirkov-Popovicki. “This definitely requires skill,” she said. “But the problem is with the images being printed on canvas. When you print digital art on canvas, it devaluates digital art and makes it cheesy and a ‘traditional painting look-alike.’ I like David Hockney’s presentation on digital devices better. His ideas can be safely commercialized and sold as a digital file, which in fact they are.”
“Perhaps,” said Tatjana, “the value of work like Don’s is in enabling artists to be more prolific and to be able to correct mistakes and make adjustments. One of the most constraining limits in traditional painting is that there’s no undo button.”
“Yes, but,” I said, “are we not perhaps coming to a time when material can float in the clouds, just as it does in the brains of many artists, until it’s needed by a consumer?”
That’s when one of my other trusted friends, Joe Blodgett, chimed in, “You know better than that, dude; ersatz is ersatz.”
PS: “Computers are another tool for the creative artist–just as a flat or filbert brush is. But there was a time when I left a jar of medium open by my work station for that painterly smell.” (Don Lambert)
Esoterica: In the same way that 19th century portrait painters were disturbed and disenfranchised by the advent of photography, many of today’s painters are in denial of digital. As Tatjana mentioned, there are other issues. On Friday, in a high mountain park, sitting on one of those bottom-warming cushions, I was attempting to keep my fingers moving in their fingerless gloves. Large flakes of snow were landing on my palette and the drip on the end of my nose was in constant need of becoming an icicle. “This is so wonderful,” I said to myself, “I hope this will always be.” Am I nuts? Who’s in denial here?
Don Lambert — giclees on canvas
Not in the painting department
by Duncan Long, Manhattan, KS, USA
I earn my living as a book cover illustrator. I think “Denial of Digital” was interesting, but also sort of misses the mark. Digital to print is more like an etching, silk screen, or lithograph than painting. Yes, it might be applied to canvas, paper, or whatever. The process of creating the digital work may (or may not) be similar to painting with many programs mimicking actual mediums. But the process of creating an original and then reproducing it on some other medium is more akin to something other than painting.
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Fake paintings a misguided idea
by Jean Wilson, Des Moines, IA, USA
I respectfully disagree that Don’s art looks like oil paintings. They look like photographs that have been run through a computer. I have a degree in painting (graduated in 1972) and I recall many of my instructors explaining that the difference between photos and actual drawings and paintings is that the artist is able to adjust things in ways that enhance the image. With a photograph and a computer, you can adjust… but it so mechanical. There is no life to Don’s images. Artists who make images using their hands are working with tools that have unique capabilities that the computer has yet to replicate. If you really think his photoshopped images look just like paintings I think you need to take another look… and be a little more objective. I think there is a place for computer art… but making fake paintings seems misguided.
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by Tony Angell, Seattle, Washington, USA
I found your latest “report” regarding digital 2d work to be informative and something of a parallel phenomena to the digital sculpture that has proliferated and likewise been foisted upon an ignorant public. As you undoubtedly know, with 360 degree digital photos of a form you can program a “carving” machine to shape your subject in Styrofoam with near perfect fidelity to the subject. I am told it can be carved in stone as well. To my eye it is soul less B.S., but is, with the sufficient merchandising budget, sold throughout the land with the “artist” claiming credit. Of course, don’t hand him a hammer and chisel as he’s not sure which hand to place them in. I get solicitations from China to do this monthly although there are now many operations state side who are offering such services.
Digital never sleeps
by Nikolay Semyonov, Rostov-na-Donu, Russia
I must also agree on the painterly quality of Don’s images (I didn’t say “canvases” because I use the former to refer to my works). There seems to be two directions in photo-based computer graphics: a) artists do everything to make it look like traditional painting and b) others to preserve the photographic look. I am with the latter. In both cases, skill and knowing where to stop are required.
I fully second Tatjana Mirkov-Popovick’s opinion except one thing. I just don’t understand why the digital should follow the traditional. I agree that, being printed, “oil” images look rather clumsy and fake. “Erzatz” is quite a handy term here as well.
It may take another couple of years — or decades (Heaven knows) when the public gets used to the idea that digital art has its own merits. “Why deny the obvious…?” (Paul Simon, “The Obvious Child”). Or should software developers start on working on how to convey smell and canvas texture? By the way, I’ve already seen the prints that imitate 3D textures resembling oil/acrylic brush strokes. Technology never sleeps.
Layers in Photoshop
by Wesley Smith, Mt. Lebanon, PA, USA
I, too, am a digital “painter” switching from oils about ten years ago. My work is also photographically based. I have a data base of over 40,000 high resolution digital photos that become my pallet. I don’t shoot my photos as completed images but as content. I’m much more interested in gathering textures, shapes, objects, etc. I then draw on these images piece by piece, collage like to create a new digital painting, working back into the image with electronic brushes, washes of color, etc.
The thing I like most about Photoshop is layers. Each piece of the painting inhabits its own layer enabling the artist to bring selected layers to the front or push them back, alter their transparency, shape, saturation and so on. When complete, the layers are collapsed to a single layer and printed by a professional printer onto archival 265 gram watercolor paper. I’ve tried printing on canvas but it looks phony.
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Finding uniqueness in digital media
by Iskra Johnson, Seattle, WA, USA
As someone who works in digital media as well as live hands-on media I think about (and question) the integrity of digital processes. For me the clarity comes when I am using the medium to do best what can’t be done another way. For images created on a computer to move offline into the world of tangible artifact there has to be a context. The medium is indirect — it goes through a printer and it emerges as a print, not a painting. No amount of folderol is going to make it anything other than a print.
So why not really think about what “printness” is? The qualities of etchings, monoprints, photographs, serigraph, the nature of digital ink and how it lies down on a surface, how it can behave like other traditional print techniques, how it can be delightfully different — why not work with that? In this way what is created is true to the medium and has integrity. Otherwise the digital output is merely a record of something else, ie. a “reproduction of something done better in some other medium.”
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Get a life!
by Beth Kurtz, Manhattan, NY, USA
Don Lambert has certainly achieved some remarkable results in his work. Many painters try to do the same sort of thing. The problem with it is not so much the approach, whether digital or traditional, as in the artist’s total immersion in nostalgia — IMO, these images simply are not “real,” and one can feel their inauthenticity. Is the artist too insensitive to the reality of his own life to address it in his work?
As for digital technology, I can agree that it can be a great help to the artist. I use it all the time with my photo references, changing the values, adjusting the colors, posterizing, grey scale, etc. But that’s not where the gratification lies. The fun — by which I mean the authentic experience — lies in pushing real, physical substances around with a real, physical object. Lambert’s approach, for me, could not satisfy the love of creating, with one’s own hands, a physical object with lasting value that is a reflection of one’s own life. One wants to say to Lambert: “Get a life!”
Your experience with the cold, the snow on your palette, etc., is surely one of those authentic experiences that lead the artist to truly authentic work.
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The day is coming for digital
by Will Enns, Summerland BC, USA
The digital medium is a tool set, nothing more, nothing less. The biggest problem with digital tools is turning digital work into an income stream. The giclee process makes this not only possible, but easy. It allows us to make hard copies of our work which people can use to decorate, or whatever. Artists who don’t think this is important aren’t being realistic. I do magazine work digitally. This is a cover image that was published by Canadian Technician magazine. “Window Shopping” paid me a wage for first time print rights. It ran on the cover of the magazine, but I have sold dozens of giclees of this image, which have thus far generated nearly 4 times the original pay.
The day may come when ordinary people have huge digital displays hanging wherever we now hang fine art. But I doubt that day will arrive in time for it to do me any good. I submit that digital art has precious little value until someone pays money for it, and then, it is only worth what was paid. It’s no different than any other commodity. If you can parley an impermanent and ever changing display of your work into a solid income stream, good for you.
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Conclusions of an iPad Painting teacher
by Andrew Judd, Toronto, ON, Canada
I taught an entire course on how to “paint with your iPad” at the Avenue Road Art School in Toronto. A very exciting and informative experience. My students had a blast and so did I. Some conclusions I’ve come to:
1. Digital painting is not real paint. (seems obvious …. no?)
2. At this point in time there are no satisfactory ways to print the digital textures in a 3d form. (That may happen someday.)
3. When you run a photo through a paint program, YOU are not PAINTING… you are creating an IMAGE that imitates some form of painting.
4. When you draw the image directly on the iPad using the digital apps available with a stylus or finger, your hand makes the same human marks that add your own personal quality.
5. When you run a photo through an “App” the most exciting thing is watching the technology create a poor imitation of paint.
6. There is no clean up required and you can create images anywhere you carry your iPad. (You can also check your email and listen to music during the process.)
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Coming back full circle
by Rodney Pygoya Chang, Honolulu, HI, USA
Since 1984 I’ve been living in blasphemy, working in a digital world. First on my computer, then displaying in the brick and mortar world as framed prints, now virtual exhibiting only online in a virtual realm. Medium and space of exhibiting are the same, so there is a consistency. Displaying photos of oil paintings online is a bit “cheesy” from my perspective. Every day, I imagine folks around the world download my work – hopefully as desktop screensaver, not printed prints to be sold. But I don’t really care. I create for the broad, global audience to share my expression and way of thinking (aesthetic values too) as I live out my life.
After almost a quarter century effort to be a relevant, ground breaking digital artist, I look forward to moving from hectic Honolulu for the 3 acres that await me in the rain forest at Volcano, Big Island, Hawaii. At that time, no more digital. I’m coming back full circle, baby, mushing wet and cheesy clay within my hands.
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Digital artists breaking new ground
by Robert Hughes, Liverpool, Merseyside, UK
Your latest letter struck a chord with me as I also paint digitally as well as painting with oils, acrylics etc. I use both Photoshop and Painter to create my digital paintings, with Painter as the main programme. The attached image of the family group was painted in two sections and finally brought together as one painting. I wanted to create a room for the family from scratch in Photoshop, I wasn’t sure how to do it at first, I had to learn as I went along, as you can imagine I encountered a number problems before I got to what you see here.
I paint digital paintings using the same technique I use for oil painting except my mediums are Pixels instead of paint and a stylus instead of brushes. I like to work from h-res photos for digital portraits: the two bottom images were painted from photographs supplied by a studio in Orlando, Florida. The top image is a detail of my Granddaughter Jessica, age 15 months at the time the photo was taken. Like Don Lambert, I also have the final artwork printed onto canvas using the ‘Giclee’ process.
I also agree with you when you say, “Computers are another tool for the creative artist — just as a flat or filbert brush is” “In the same way that 19th century portrait painters were disturbed and disenfranchised by the advent of photography, many of today’s painters are in denial of digital.” I have entered the two bottom paintings into Art Competitions — most art competitions now have a clause saying “Digital Art not permitted” — The family group got to the final 300 entries for a Nationwide art competition which was to be seen on the BBC TV here in the UK. Unfortunately, it never got into the finals, which is a pity as I thought people would be interested in hearing how it was created. On another occasion, I entered the two bottom paintings into a “Digital” painting competition for 2012. This time it was for ‘Ballistic’ book Publishers — the winning entries would be incorporated into the latest book which has a worldwide circulation. Both paintings made it to the finals of the competition, but no further.
Many people still do not know what Digital Painting is — different to Digital Art. When you tell them how it is done, some say, “Well then, it’s not real art, is it? Anyone can do that” but that’s not quite true. It takes skill and the same determination and planning most artists have when tackling a painting. It’s not a case of picking up a ‘brush or a stylus’ and start painting; there is more to it than that. A quote by Don Lambert in your letter, “But there was a time when I left a jar of medium open by my work station for that painterly smell,” made me think of one occasion when I found myself sitting in front of my computer contemplating a painting I was working on, and as I stared at the image on the screen I took my handkerchief out of my pocket and started cleaning my brush, when I realised I was holding a stylus.
Artists are ‘creative’ people and by their very nature are inquisitive. If you can find something that helps you create new innovative work of art, go for it. The French Impressionists broke new ground. So, too, have Digital Artists.’
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Enjoy the past comments below for ‘Denial of digital?’…
Evening at Blackie Spit
acrylic painting, 18 x 24 inches
You may be interested to know that artists from every state in the USA, every province in Canada, and at least 115 countries worldwide have visited these pages since January 1, 2013.
That includes Mike Barr of Adelaide, South Australia, who wrote, “Recently, in a once-prestigious landscape prize, I witnessed paintings shoulder to shoulder with blown glass, ceramics, photographs, digital art and giclees. In an art prize with no categories, how can paintings be compared and judged against ceramic tiles, photographs, pieces of blown glass or digital art printed as giclees! A blown glass entry won the $10,000 non-acquisitive prize.
And also Heather Bruce of Snohomish, WA, USA, who wrote, “At this time of year (Thanksgiving in the U.S), especially, I think about the people/things/beings that enhance my life. Your letters are on that list. You always give me food for thought and often a chuckle or two or three.”