Beetle Week Day 2: Painting Bugs with ArtRage Studio Pro

Welcome to Day 2 of Beetle Week!

Earlier this year I was commissioned by entomologist and insect photographer Morgan Jackson of Biodiversity in Focus to contribute to a soon-to-be-published, honest-to-gosh dead-tree book about jewel beetles in Ontario. The result? My first series of scientific illustrations, instead of the off-kilter, surreal science paintings I'm known for. 

Today: Painting Bugs with ArtRage Studio Pro

Technical specs: 


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When tackling a new illustration subject for the first time, I like to begin with mechanical pencil and bristol paper. They're my comfort zone. After that though, I have decisions to make. In my undergraduate degree, I worked mainly in oil paint. Since then, I sometimes find it more useful to paint digitally, especially for a project like these beetles. Adjustments and corrections to ensure scientific accuracy are much easier with digital media than with traditional paints.

I've tried a number of digital painting programs, and by far my favourite is ArtRage. If you're not familiar, it's a digital painting program with versions available for PC, Mac, iPad and the iPhone. Each one is relatively affordable (under $100 for the PC version, compared to several hundred for Photoshop).

The main attraction for me with this program has always been the interface. Instead of drop-down menus, ArtRage includes all the important tools right on the screen in two quarter-circles in the corners:

Screenshot showing the interface, from my original test of some of ArtRage Studio Pro's tools. Click to enlarge. 


On the left, all your tools: oil and watercolour brushes, inking pens, pencils, erasers and host of other tools from technical to goofy. On the right, the colours, allowing you to adjust tones and how metallic the paint appears. These two palettes, tools and colours, mean everything to me as a classically-taught painter. I feel just like I'm dipping into my palette or brush box.

In ArtRage you can control the paper or canvas surface (or blackboard, or sandpaper or...) and the digital paint handles differently on each type. The big advance in Studio Pro (also known as ArtRage 3) over the previous 2.5 version is, in my opinion, the amazingly realistic watercolours.

I planned to use watercolours for the beetles early on. It can give the work the feel of old naturalist's studies. However, as the project went on, I realized that more than watercolour would be needed to bring out the richness of texture and metallic colour on some of these little animals.

Here's a look at Xenorhipus:

Xenorhipus, one of the more colourful jewel beetles for this commission. © Glendon Mellow


This painting required a lot of stippling.  The Intuos 3 graphics tablet has 1024 levels of pressure, so you can achieve some subtlety of colour depending on how hard you press.  It's one of the main features of working on a desktop that remains superior to the iPad version.

Here's an up-close look:

Up close, closer than I look while actually painting, you can see metallic green pain near the top swathed in more liquid greens. The little greyish tadpole strokes in the bottom half show how varying pressure even in a single stroke can add to the detail. 


A few of the beetles were shiny brown shades, others were multiple bright metallic shades. Another nice feature in ArtRage is you can store and name specific palettes.  Here's one of mine, for Trachys:

Custom colour palette for Trachys, the most brilliant of the subjects. You can see the point of grey chosen on the colour palette at right that I've listed as "grey dots". I found that often, the colours I chose needed to be more brilliant than the ones in the photo references to "read" similarly to the eye. 

I also saved a custom brush that I found was useful for fine detail, hairs and lines on a number of the beetles. Here's a sample of a few light-colour brushstrokes on a dark ground from the painting for Texania:

Custom brush menu. You can save multiple menus, and make them available to more than one file. I've placed some brush strokes on the white area beneath the menu so you can see what they look like without the rest of the bug's head.


If you'd like to learn how to save your own custom tools, I made a short video tutorial last year:



ArtRage is powerful for painting, but sometimes a little less perfect for editing. A couple of the beetles had a kind of "squashed banana" look to them as a result of me trying to inject more dynamic poses and bending them where they don't bend. When I went in to fix them, I used Photoshop Elements 6, the eraser, free transform and the clone tool.

Here's examples of the bent beetle Paragrilus (left), and unbent (right).

Paragrilus, in a dynamic, twisty, squashed-banana pose on the left, and fixed using Photoshop on the right.


There are selection tools in ArtRage Studio Pro, as well as some tools called templates that can be used and I suspect could have done the job in fixing Paragrilus's tilted back, above. I'll have to experiment some more. In this case, I went with tools I already knew to make the correction, and ArtRage allows you to save files in Photoshop's .psd format, even keeping layers intact.

Have any other scientific illustrators tried using ArtRage to do their work?  I'd be curious to see other examples or get feedback on this project. I would certainly use it again, perhaps even with digital pencils as I become more comfortable with them.

Questions, comments and opinions encouraged below!

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Check out the rest of Beetle Week!


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Original artwork on The Flying Trilobite © to Glendon Mellow
under Creative Commons Licence.

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Forgotten art for a late night.



Taking apart a room due to some slight water damage. Listening to Stromkern (thanks Stephanie!) and Wolfsheim. Here's some of my slate pieces from my final school project scanned and converted to black and white. I almost put this image in my latest print collection, and then skipped it and forgot about it.


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Original artwork on The Flying Trilobite Copyright to Glendon Mellow
under Creative Commons Licence.

Icky and Ickier


The other day I threw this old oil painting of mine, called Pupating, into a standard Photoshop filter called plastic wrap or plastic bag or something. 




Using basic Photoshop filters can be considered a bit of an icky cheat in some illustration circles. Still; I think it adds something, don't you?

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Original artwork on The Flying Trilobite Copyright to Glendon Mellow under Creative Commons Licence.

Trilobite Boy and his fans - WIP

Here's a work-in-progress for the Trilobite Boy comic series.  Our hero signing autographs for his tweeny fans. 





I was hoping to do a daily 30 minute sketch to tell the Trilobite Boy story, and so far that hasn't happened. I've been under considerable stress while looking for a new regular source of income - so now I'm hoping to do at least three of these a week.

Originally the idea was to do each in 30 minutes and practice getting smarter and faster painting digitally. The one above is taking longer while I mess with gradations and the selection brush in Photoshop Elements 6, and I'm okay with that. The point is to keep challenging myself on a regular basis while making a backbone of story images for Trilobite Boy - I don't have to follow a slavish self-imposed schedule. Above was 30 minutes, not including the pencil drawing.

You can follow the adventures of Trilobite Boy at trilobiteboy.tumblr.com - currently, he's skateboarding to the Royal Ontario Museum, and passing by Toronto's famous Crinoid Tower.

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Original artwork on The Flying Trilobite Copyright to Glendon Mellow

Pink Parasaurolophus

It's done!  My Pink Parasaurolophus submission for Art Evolved's Pink Dinosaur charity drive.  



 

The drive is going great, and there's over 100 pink dinosaur submissions so far!  It's not to late to submit one: we're going to the end of October.

You can see a higher-res image of my pink duckbill in my
DeviantArt gallery or my print shop. I have a couple of posts with sketches you can find here.

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Original artwork on
The Flying Trilobite Copyright to Glendon Mellow
under
Creative Commons Licence.



Portfolio
Blog
Print Shop

Pink Parasaurolophus Painting Progress

Mentioned in yesterday's important post.

Pencil drawing.
Click to hugeify.

Progress so far.  


Click to enlargetate.
Just laying in basic colours and a background.  



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Original artwork on
The Flying Trilobite Copyright to Glendon Mellow
under
Creative Commons Licence.

Portfolio
Blog
Print Shop

Tips for web-ready images

I originally posted this over on SONSI, where I practice my webmaster skills.  I thought it might be useful to some Flying Trilobite readers.

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Recently I was asked,
“Could you help me with understanding how to format my photos for upload and how to add the transparent © symbol? (see below) If these are questions that many have already asked, maybe a FAQ on the site would be a good idea?”
We discussed it, and I thought I’d share my quick tips here and the whole intertubes.
If you use software like Photoshop or Gimp to alter the size of your files, aim to make them 100kb or less in size.  (Most of mine fall into the 75kb range).  There’s generally three things that affect file size: colour, dimensions of the image and quality of the image.
Colour: Typically, you are not going to want to reduce your colour range, unless it’s a colour scan of a black and white image.  So let’s leave that alone.
Dimensions of the image: you can often find ways to alter this (keep your proportions the same) under names like”canvas size” or just look for how many pixels wide and high the image is.  Typically, I tend to make things somewhere around 500-800 pixels on the larger side.  Most people don’t want to click to enlarge an image and have it expand to be bigger than their monitor.
Quality of the image: This is a dodgy one, since most of us want everything crystal-clear.  However, jpeg files can be compressed quite well without losing a lot of resolution, at least for posting online.  Not good for submitting to a magazine or for getting prints, but online it’s great.  In Photoshop, use the “save for web” feature (you can monkey with canvas size there too).  In Gimp, you get the option when you save the Gimp file as a jpeg.
I’ve mentioned Gimp a couple of times – it’s a decent, FREE alternative to Photoshop that can do (kinda-almost) everything Photoshop Elements can.  There’s no insidious pop-ups or programming.  It just works really well.   (I do not work for them or receive any cool kickbacks.)   You can find it here. http://www.gimp.org/
To put a copyright symbol on your work, go into the text tool on software like Photoshop, Gimp or many others and hold down ALT and type 0169 .  Let go of ALT and the © should appear.  Or you can cut-and-paste it from this post.
Anyone have any other quick tips?



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Original artwork on The Flying Trilobite Copyright to Glendon Mellow
under
Creative Commons Licence.

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Art Monday: Bumper Sticker Style









Made from my playing around with my tattoo design. I might work up a variant of these to put in the print shop. Something about colour gradients on black reminds me of summer:  waveboarding, cycling the boardwalk, tattoos and teen posturing.

Maybe the green needs to be more of a bright lime to go with the others.

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Original artwork on
The Flying Trilobite Copyright to Glendon Mellow
under
Creative Commons Licence.
Portfolio
Blog
Print Shop

Tips on web-ready images

One of the Southern Ontario Nature & Science Illustrators' members asked for a few tips on making images web-ready, and putting the little © copyright symbol on things.

Head over to the
SONSI site for some of my quick tips.

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Original artwork on The Flying Trilobite Copyright to Glendon Mellow
under
Creative Commons Licence.

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