Week Seven Focus: Texture
First of all thank you to everyone for your patience over the holiday break. We had a big season downunder and i was completely snowed in (well not literally, its summer here!). We are back in business now that LMS Round 1 is done and dusted and I hope to see friendly faces back in here soon. We are going to ride this out full steam until the end of week 12, I have a few surprises up my sleeve, and we will be talking more about the new format that will commence after week 12. Without further ado, welcome back everyone, and lets step this up to another level.
How do we define texture, and just what is it?
Essentially, texture refers to a sensation or property of something, and the word is used to describe both tactile sensations, and more metaphorical ones. Where it is obvious what we mean by the ‘texture of a rock’, the term is also used to refer to music, food, and the texture of one’s ‘character’.
In art, we can talk about texture in several ways. Let us first clearly distinguish between CREATING TEXTURE and DEPICTING TEXTURE.
The most important type of texture for us to begin to work with is the depiction of texture as we experience it with our sense of sight. This has nothing to do with a brush technique or any other method of application. It falls into the realm of observational painting and drawing, and refers to an understanding of how we perceive the properties of an object. How do we see the difference between a green lime and a green bouncy ball? How do we know from a distance that something is glass or plastic? It has to do with the physical properties of the SURFACE of the object, and by studying this, we can formalize guidelines for its reproduction – and therefore a stepping stone to producing realistic paintings. The following image from Niklas Jansson’s great tutorial depicts the different properties of surfaces and how they effect the way light bounces around. It does a better job of explaining than I will:
Essentially, what we perceive as texture is in fact the patter of light playing off the physical object and into our eyes. As you can see above, when the surface (at a micro level) is smooth like glass or water, the light bounces off in a reasonably predictable and direct fashion causing a specular highlight. Whereas a rough piece of stone would be bumpy and rough at a micro level, thus the different angles of these bumps ‘scatter’ the light and cause a more diffused highlight that spreads over the object.
The best way to study the depiction of texture is just that – by studying. Observing in the same way that you would observe skin tones and colours, the anatomical landmarks or perspective on a skyscraper. Observe how light plays off the different ingredients on a pizza, the difference between the surface of the eye and the surface of the eyebrow. Depicting this in your painting then becomes a matter of where and how you put down the strokes depicting light.
The other texture that we talk about is specific to painting. It involves the actual physical manipulation of the texture of the painting itself, as opposed to the depiction of the true-to-life texture of your subject. This type of painted texture is a result of traditional painting, especially from the Renaissance on, as painters began dealing with thick, impasto application of the paint as a technique unto itself. Rembrandt was well known for this and I remember marveling at the sculptural way he handled the paint when I saw his self portraits at the Uffizi.
This approach added a new dimension to painting as it interacted in a dynamic way with the actual light in the room where the painting was hung. It also created a much more physical avenue for expression with the style of the paint. It showed forcefulness and confidence and virtuosity by virtue of the bravado with which it was applied. In the age of digital painting we use this created texture not as a sculptural medium (since our canvases remain as flat as a pancake), but ironically enough we use it to make our paintings look LESS digital. Texture is used to take away the flat, plasticky look of the round brush, to suggest ‘accidental’ detail and to imitate natural media. It is a very useful method for generating ideas or populating your painting with life and variation. And it can definitely still be used as an eye magnet.
Unlike Depicted Texture, which is a result of continued observational painting and study of light, created texture can be approached in a much more individualized way. When we talk about digital painting, we have a few options open to us. For now, we will discuss:
- Texture Brushes
- Photo Overlay
- Pattern Overlay
- Duplicate and multiply method
1. Texture Brushes
Here I am going to talk only about photoshop, as my experience in Painter is limited. The photoshop brush system works as a repeating path of alpha shapes which it can transform and morph in various ways. When we use a typical painting brush (say a hard round default), these alpha’s are spaced very closely together, so that each one overlaps the previous, and so we get a (somewhat) continuous, unbroken line. Many custom brushes change the spacing of the ‘heads’ so the brush is less fluid, or you can add scattering, variance, pressure control and so on.
What is more important to understand is that Photoshop is an ADDITIVE COLOUR system (we talked about this in colour week). What this means (for the purpose of this discussion) is that essentially, each brushstroke is ‘dry’ and layered in a similar manner to layering different coloured lights. Each brushstroke is somewhat transparently overlaid, whereas in an oil painting for instance, overlaying a brushstroke would blend it with the wet paint underneath resulting in a completely different end mixture.
So when we use texture brushes we can use this to our advantage. After blocking in or even rendering a smooth picture to get the forms right, we can lightly skim over this with texture brushes to add detail. Or we can also use texture brushes from the beginning to help us with the ideas stage. Or you can mix it up. Using texture brushes leaves you fairly in control of what you are doing, and the biggest learning curve is taking the time to familiarize yourself with all the brushes (especially if you are using some of the sets downloadable from guys like Cicinemo –after all, they created the brushes for specific purposes which you may be unaware of). Once you know your brushes, you will be better equipped to know which to pull out when you have to render water or the bark of a tree.
I would recommend having a dig around to find brushes here at CA from Cicinemo, M@ and Barontieri. Im sure some of you have the links if you would care to share them? They are a good introduction to custom brushes and there are some great ones in there. Also, feel free to have a fiddle. In ps, select any part of an image (can be a portion of a photo, or a scribble, or whatever). Select it with the marquee tool, then go Edit > Define Brush Preset. Type a name and it will appear at the bottom of your brush list. Open up the Brushes window and have a play with the settings and try some stuff out. Im sure most of you know your way around this already.
2. Photo Overlay
Here we are talking about taking a whole photograph and dropping it over your painting to add texture. This is a much more gross method with unpredictable results. Its great for the sketch stage and can provide you with strange shapes and silhouettes to explore. It also has the added benefit of being able to introduce random colour shifts into the piece to add a bit of spice. To do this, drag and drop a photo into your psd. It will appear on a new layer. Lower the opacity slightly and then experiment with the different blending modes. Multiply and soft light are great for this technique. Look out for areas where the photo adds nice subtle textures like dirt on the ground or grit on a wall, or where it suggests whole new shapes (like a lightbulb suggesting a hot air balloon). If a part of the photo doesn’t contribute, add a quickmask to the layer and mask out the unnecessary areas.
3. Pattern overlay
This is the same as above, except using a specific texture or pattern photo to achieve a specific effect in a specific area.
4. Duplicate and Multiply Method
Again, same blending method as 2 and 3 except here we are working at the mid stages of the sketch. Heres what to do:
CTRL+SHIFT+N = New Layer
ALT+CTRL+SHIFT+E = Merge all visible layers onto the new layer
CTRL+T = Free transform. Flip, stretch, warp, move and distort your image a few times
Then change the blending mode as above. The added advantage to this is that you are using shapes and silhouettes already present in the painting, so this can be a good way to add similar elements to create rhythm or unity throughout. ‘Echos’ are an important compositional tool.
This Week’s Tasks:
I would like to create an Environmentoring brush set for us all to append onto our own sets. Once you guys have played around with brushes I would like you to create 2 brushes with specific purposes and then give them naming conventions as follows:
I will get these from you during the week individually and then compile them into an ABR for you all to download. That’s your study task this week. Also, optionally, it would be good if you posted up examples of your brush ‘in action’.
This week we will follow along with the EOW. The topic (as yet unannounced over there, shhh!) will be ‘Abatoir’. In this piece you must demonstrate BOTH: Depicted Texture and Constructed Texture. You will be marked on your use of both these things, and how well the texture reads in your image. Furthermore, you will be assessed on how you use texture to enhance the communication or narrative of your image. The interpretation of abattoir is open as far as style and time period.
DEADLINE: FEBRUARY 6
Good luck guys, spread the word that we are back in business. Im really tired so I may have missed a thing or two. But I’ll be around.
Finally I thought I would leave you with a quote:
A century and a half ago, Asher B. Durand wrote that when execution “becomes conspicuous as a principal feature of the picture, it is presumptive evidence, at least, of a deficiency in some higher qualities.”
More surprises to come… welcome back