Original New Orleans Art by Debbie Ainsworth

The Digital Art Years: 2001 – 2016

After I graduated from college, I stopped painting. I’m not really sure why, but it might be akin to the same kind of burnout I suffered when I tried to pursue an MA in history.  One class had so much required reading that I just couldn’t read anymore. I even stopped reading for pleasure for well over a decade. With Art it was kind of the same thing. There was a lot of required art in the form of everyone sketching or painting the same subjects, having to create art with the same materials, having to take art classes in mediums that you don’t care for (printmaking and sculpture for me), etc. Required art is the reason I didn’t keep anything I made during my entire college career. There was only one project that I remember being proud of, and I gave that piece to a friend as a gift.

I lugged my art gear around for awhile, but I gradually whittled it down with each move until all I kept were a container of colored pencils and a case of acrylic paints. I didn’t even have brushes or a pallet anymore. For a long time, I didn’t even want to create art at all, then I purchased my first computer and discovered digital art. Back then most digital art was primitive, consisting mostly of what they called ‘fractal’ art. Fractal art mostly looks like crystalized alien landscapes. Then I saw some truly unique character portraits that were done using either a mouse or a digital pen in Photoshop.

Around this same time, my creativity expressed itself in a different way: online roleplaying. Now, this wasn’t the Dungeons and Dragons type of roleplaying. The kind I engaged in was called Free Form Role Playing. The basic tenet of FFRP was that everybody made up their own character (no charts or dice necessary), then we all went into an AOL chatroom called the Red Dragon Inn (RDI) and interacted with each other in a sort of spontaneous, improvisational open ended story telling. In short, we created characters and acted out scenes that we made up as we went along. Naturally, everyone was hungry for portraits of their characters. I wanted to create my own, but I didn’t like the look of scanned images back in those days, and my skill set in Photoshop wasn’t up to the task. I didn’t have a digital pen, and drawing with a mouse is hard. 🙂

I started gaming with a guy who used an app called Poser to illustrate his FFRP stories. I’d used Poser before at work, but the results were always very plastic, like mannequins. However, the app had much improved, and my research showed me some digital artists using it to achieve effects that far surpassed what my friend was doing. I was hooked. Or maybe I just desperately needed a way to create art. Below is the very first image I created with just Poser. It’s called Waiting For the Ripper.

I should explain that Poser is a virtual photography studio. You get models that you can alter (face, body type), add skin tone, give them wigs, and dress them up anyway you like. Then you create a background or environment for them and put them into poses. Some folks find all of that to be the hard part, but it’s not. There is one element that will make or break any Poser image … lighting. If you can get the lighting right, the rest is lagniappe. Below are some more examples where the lighting is critical to the success of the image.

With some practice, you can create some really vivid portraits. Here is a portrait of my most recent roleplaying character.

I really love this portrait. I love the way the lighting gives a sheen to her skin tone. I like the delicate grace of her fingers. I like the thick, unruly hair. I like the expression in her eyes and her mouth. I like the wrinkles in the fabric, and the evenness of the pattern on the sleeves and the scarf on her hips. I like the soft shadows throughout. But none of that happened by accident. Someone else could have setup the same pose, used the same props, but without the lighting, they could never achieve the same result. Because the lighting is such a crucial part of Poser, it’s also kind of a drudgery to pick the right set. (You can get lighting presets that can be added with a click of a button.) Once you find a preset that works the best for what you’re trying to achieve, then you can tweak it to get it just right. It takes a lot of time. Not just in picking the lights and tweaking them, but in the long wait times for the images to render so you can see if that particular preset is going to work.

As my skills with Poser and Photoshop increased, the longer it took me to get the results that I wanted. It became kind of a chore. Also, there is an inherent separation between artist and art when a computer is involved.  You need tech to create the art, but the act of manipulating the tech is more of a right brain activity than a left. I start feeling less like an artist and more like a technician. I think that’s why digital art became less and less satisfying to me, though the experience is invaluable to me now. While I much prefer painting to digital art, the skills I acquired help me to make sure that ArtByDArt Fine Art Prints look as much like the originals as possible.