Approaching Storm

Much of the time I’m unsatisfied with the outcome of what I’m drawing or painting. I’m rarely unsatisfied with the process of practice and learning, just unsatisfied with the result. I think this is natural for a student of any age, and I consider myself a student.

However, every now and then I paint or draw something which I think shows progress in my study, and this digital study is one of those times. It’s subject is a bird, but thematically it’s about much more. As a minstrel poet of our times once wrote: “You don’t have to be a weatherman to know which way the wind blows.”

Art details: The crow and stump were painted freehand in Photoshop, using a photo as a reference. It is not a paint-over or a photo manipulation, nor do I trace. I start with a rough sketch, black on white, just like with a ‘real’ pencil or brush, and build up the layers with semi-transparent brushstrokes, bit by bit. The Photoshop file was opened in Corel Painter, where the background was painted on other layers using customized brushes. The whole thing was brought back into Photoshop for final color correction, watermark and jpegging. I am working on a non-digital version of this also which may be available for sale. For this digital study I used a small Wacom tablet that’s about 5 years old, nothing fancy.


  1. Alison
    May 5, 2006

    Fabulous! I’ve just started to learn a litttle about photoshop on my course so I can appreciate the skill it took to do this. :)

  2. endment
    May 5, 2006

    I can feel the moisture in the air — rain is coming

    thank you for this breakdown.

  3. Linda
    May 5, 2006

    Yes — the breakdown of your process is much appreciated! This is a wonderful piece — love the entire feeling of it.

  4. lindsay
    May 5, 2006

    Wow Karen this is a really powerful image. Congrats!! Beautifully rendered.

    Today was one of those days when I was working on an image (All media for WC) and 1/2 way through, I felt so discouraged. Could not see where my
    drawing was going. But if I push through this feeling and just FINISH my drawing, I end up floating in the zone and feeling satisfied that I followed through.

  5. Karen
    May 5, 2006

    Thanks, Alison, Endment, Lindsay, Lydia and Linda,
    If you ever have a question about what/how, just ask. I’m always happy to answer (if I can remember.) When I’m using multiple programs sometimes I’m working so fast that I forget what I’ve done. Here’s something that I tried that I found useful. I did the background in Painter (but it could just as well have been done with “real” paint.) I started with the blue shades and then for the opposite side chose directly across the color wheel for the complement. The colors were much brighter before I took the whole thing into Photoshop and muted them. Photoshop is just another iteration of my sketchbook/workbook … but instead of doing roughs and sketches on paper, I do them with pixels and work out solutions. when I paint this in oil or acrylic I will already know where I’m going.

    Lindsay, that was good that you kept going anyway. I hear many artists talk about when their paintings go through the “ugly” stage before they reach completion. You just have to stick with it.

  6. joyce
    May 5, 2006

    Boy, I wish I knew all the digital stuff you do! This is a neat painting…I feel a storm coming on.

  7. Ruth
    May 5, 2006



    But why bounce between Photoshop and Corel?

    (I could be tempted by a Wacom, then)

  8. Karen
    May 5, 2006

    Thanks, Joyce, Ru …

    Ru, to answer your question (which is an excellent one)

    I am most comfortable sketching and doing basic simple painting in Photoshop. After 17 yrs of using it, we’re practically joined at the hip (make that wrist). I’m just not as quick with Painter, so Photoshop is my main tool for sketching and laying down color – fast. (The bird was painted in probably an hour or less.) However, the oil brushes in Painter are just phenomenal for that natural-media look. So I use each program for what it does best. I am very at home with Photoshop’s color correction/saturation/dodge and burn tools, so I use that for my “final.” And … exporting using the Save for Web … function in Photoshop is a snap; also putting the watermark on. So, I use each for what they do best. I can also get an “oil look” in Photoshop, but you just can’t beat Painter for doing clouds. Yes, Ruth, go thee and get a Wacom – do it, do it, do it!!!

  9. Felicity
    May 6, 2006

    Amazing painting. Unlike a lot of people I don’t like crows. They are a wonderful shape but they remind me of bleak times so I think your stormy background is especially fitting.

  10. Toni
    May 6, 2006

    i may not post much but i do read your blog. this digital painting is awesome. i see your work getting better all the time. i’m looking forward to seeing more finished pieces from you that can be framed 😉

    PS just wanted you to know I changed my blog name to ‘A Spattering’

  11. Slywy
    May 6, 2006

    I love bleak things, including crows and hints of storms. :)

    As a non-artist, I have a question — I love art materials, and wonder if you don’t miss the hands-on experience of manipulating pencils, paints, paper, etc., when you work in computer programs? I sitll write almost everything on paper before typing, at which point I just edit and correct obvious mistakes. There’s something about the tactile feeling of materials that I feel is part of the experience.

    (On the other hand, eliminating missteps, etc., is a bit harder than on screen. :))

  12. Karen
    May 6, 2006

    That’s a good question, Slywy,
    Because I do so much hands-on painting and drawing with real watercolor, pen and ink, acrylic and other media, I just see this as a different tool to use for exploration. It is a different experience that does take a little getting used to. Ordinarily it’s hand, eye, paper …. and digital painting makes it hand, eye, tablet (instead of paper) and screen. So there are four factors instead of three.

    It is definitely easier to draw directly on paper, but the benefits of experimentation and “undo” balance it out. In this case, I was working out a design for something which I will ultimately paint in oil or acrylic – so the final experience and product will still be a tactile one.

  13. Susan
    May 6, 2006

    Ahh Karen, your diversity of style is a marvel to observe. Your generosity in sharing skill and talent, such a treat. I ‘ feel so endebted to you on so many levels. Please God you won’t ever demand financial recompense! ^g^ as always, THANK YOU! Sue “”

  14. Cin
    May 6, 2006

    wonderful Karen! and I so amazed and impressed that you did this in an hour!! you continually inspire me to try new things.

  15. Karen
    May 6, 2006

    Susan and Cin,

    Thanks so much for your comments. I am happy to share what I am learning.
    Cin, the bird was painted in about an hour – the background took additional time, and then time to unite the two, adjust the colors, etc. Probably 1:45 altogether.

  16. carole
    May 7, 2006

    There is something iconic about this picture. The mood suits the bird so well. I love the corvid family (although I do love little fledglings too – nature can be harsh)

    Do you use the mouse to paint, or do you have something easier to manipulate? I think i’d get RSI if I tried painting with the mouse.

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