One challenge I have, creating all the pieces for South Beach POParazzi - my new gallery series and upcoming one-person show at the Leesburg Center for the Arts in February - is coming up with digital backgrounds to go with all the portraits.
Although based on existing photos, these new images will be abstract to the point of almost pure pixel art, eventually having an illustrative quality equal to or greater than the photographic one.
I've decided I'll create the backgrounds separately using drawing programs, then blend them in with the subject of each piece to create the final image.
When creating digital art on a computer, in its simplest form, there are basically two approaches to take.
You can start from scratch, building a design using the tools, palettes, colors, and all of the many other other editing resouces available in your typical pixel or vector-based drawing program. This is your classic blank canvas method.
You can also begin with an existing design, then go ahead and make changes to it.
For me, this series will be a fun combination of the two techniques.
The basic look of each piece will obviously be derived from a photograph - the original photo of each celebrity. As I've already mentioned, I'll then create separate abstract digital artwork to incorporate as a background for each of the pieces.
When thinking of how I wanted to go about designing this background artwork, I remembered two odd little drawing programs I owned, both produced by a software company called Escape Motions, and both incredibly inexpensive. While very similar, they are slightly different in interesting ways.
Escape Motions' Amberlight is difficult to describe. They bill it as a "One-of-a-kind procedural art tool that creates beautiful computer generated images and animations."
Sounds a bit vague, doesn't it?
Basically, Amberlight is a pixel-based drawing program that lets you adjust the number, the positons, and the sizes of the pattern generators. Computer algorithms - which you can also configure - then create fascinating geometric line and glow patterns, as you can see in the image above.
You can start and stop the drawing at anytime, deleting a design if you do not like it, or rendering it and saving the file if you do.
Pretty cool, eh?
Flame Painter is the more expensive program of the two - although still very reasonably priced - and in my opinion, creates images that are equally exciting, but a bit more controllable than Amberlight.
As you might be able to figure out from the Flame Painter screenshot above, the program creates and uses customized digital painting brushes, but it does so much more than that simple task.
The brushes you create are particle brushes, and you configure the number of painting dots, their size, their spacing and frequency, and of course, their visual qualities including color and brightness.
As you move your mouse, stylus on a tablet, or fingers on a laptop pad, the particle brush comes to life, and draws beautifully organic geometric patterns - if that makes sense. The images are a wonderful combination of precision and randomness.
Like Amberlight, you can delete designs you don't care for, and save the ones you do. It also allows you to create vector layers that can be saved and are fully editiable in other photo and illustration programs.
Exactly the qualities I want...
Full disclosure - If I'm being honest, I have to call these programs out for what they really are: high tech doodle generators.
You may laugh at the description, but as someone who has been drawing and doodling my enitre life - certainly for many years before I ever learned photography, graphic arts, or any printing processes - trust me, I know it when I see it.
Now, what I mean is this - to create fun and beautiful art with these programs, you do not need any artistic or design skills whatsoever.
I'm serious. None...
Both programs open with default settings, and if you wish, you can just push a button, or move your mouse around a bit, and voilà...it starts to draw these amazing designs.
There can be a wonderful mindlessness at work here - if you want. It is a simplicity that reminds me so much of doodling, and even as an experinced artist, I am ok with that.
After all, with my work, just like with many others - the ends justifies the means.
I mean this quite literally, as the designs I've posted here in the screenshots above - though very cool - in no way look like what my finished artwork will when fully edited into the new South Beach POParazzi pieces.
There are two reasons for this. One, my final designs will be much more complicated than simply generated doodles. I'll take what I create in these great programs, then edit it further in Adobe Photoshop. The end result will look very different.
Two, I am in no hurry to give away any of the visuals of either the series or the show. Except, of course, for the first few early pieces that will be ued for publicity and promotional purposes.
And those I will share very soon!
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