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Nubian High Priestess
Finished Version

Fine Art continued

NUBIAN HIGH PRIESTESS—The Process from Oil to Digital

Painting with Pixels:
Technology Makes Finishing
a Painting a Genuine Pleasure

I’ve been an artist for all my life (55+ years), beginning with my own feces (Yeah, I know, how crude. But, have you ever seen a small child discover the delights of what’s in his or her diapers?), to pencil, to charcoal, to oil colors, to pastels, to watercolors, to gaining skill with today’s hi-tech acrylics. Making art is necessarily a messy and expensive activity, and can be quite frustrating when things don’t come out quite as you envisioned them.

Computers have revolutionized the way I do art, and I’d like to share some ideas and techniques with all the artists out there who also enjoy creating computer graphics. If you have PhotoShop* installed on your computer, you have all the paints and brushes you’ll ever need to not only begin a new painting, but finish and enhance a partially completed work that’ll make your eyes bug out. Described herein is an evolution of a painting I started in 1998, but never finished until I scanned it into my computer and attacked it with the marvelous tools available to me in PhotoShop*.

First, I had to scan in the painting in two pieces, as the canvas was 12" x 16", but my scanner bed only 9" x 12". That was the biggest challenge, as alignment was critical to a good, seamless “stitch.” It helped to measure and pencil alignment marks on the back of the canvas so I could position the painting correctly on the scanner.

I brought the two pieces into PhotoShop* side-by-side, created a new, empty PhotoShop* canvas large enough to accommodate both pieces, and copied each half on a separate layer so I could begin the tricky stitching process.

As I had scanned in about ½" extra at the stitch junction, I could overlap the two halves where they met to get a nice invisible seam. (By the way, disable auto color adjustment in your scan program—the two halves will NOT have the same hue if you don’t! Another thing I learned was to let my scanner warm up; cool scanners scan colors differently, creating a mismatch for stitching halves.) Once the two halves looked aligned, I sampled the exact color at the seam with the eyedropper tool, and using the airbrush tool at about 60% opacity, sprayed brown over any visible seam so the two halves appeared as one. I then merged the two layers into one, and saved the file as a PSD file, thereby setting the painting up for the really cool editing and enhancing I planned next.

* PhotoShop is a registered trademark of Adobe Corporation

Stage 0
Unfinished Oil Painting

Stage 1
The painting gets some color, touch-ups, and refinement.

Stages 1 and 2

Sampling different shades on the face, I airbrushed the rougher areas, added highlights and shadows, and generally smoothed out the contours of my Nubian High Priestess’ gorgeous face.

I didn’t particularly care for the pronounced asymmetry of my subject’s eyes (as present in my human model), so, using the smudge tool with about 50% pressure, I “pulled” her eye contours into shape with a “goo” or “liquify” filter (depending on your PhotoShop* version) so they matched better.

Again using the airbrush tool, I added specular highlights to her eyes to make them glisten, and put in just a hint of a glow on her cheeks and lips. This I did on a separate layer, in case I changed my mind later.

Stage 2
Added specular highlights to her eyes, and added a rosy tint to cheeks and lips.

Stage 3

The next step was to fill in her hair portion with braids. I created her braids—every last one of them—by first drawing a simple 3-inch braid by hand, scanning in the sketch, and manipulating this tiny image in a separate file. I first pasted the braid into a new PhotoShop* canvas with transparent background, and deleted the white paper portion outside the braid with the magic wand tool. I then inverted the image (created a negative of it, since I wanted black braids with white highlights), and got busy with the airbrush tool, alternating black and white spot fills until my braid looked like black shiny hair. The braid was way too soft; I needed to add texture to it, so it looked like real African hair. I used the noise filter to accomplish this, and was now satisfied I had a good braid from which I could copy and assemble her lovely hairdo.

Stage 3
Designed a braid, then copied it to her head one at a time to create her braided hairdo.